Each week I have the opportunity for two different teaching/learning experiences with kids. I teach my first graders each day. I teach kindergartners at my church each week. While lots of things are similar, occasionally I find things that are quite different about the two environments.
A few weeks ago with the kindergartner at church, we had map pieces, plain paper, patterned scissors, punches, and glue sticks. My idea was that they would punch and cut shapes from the map pieces and glue onto the manila paper to create designs. Of course, we let them explore as they choose, so their idea was a little different.
They mostly wanted to explore the tools I put out. They punched shapes and punches shapes and punched shapes.
They cut with the scissors and punched more shapes. They punched shapes in the map pieces and punched shapes in the manila paper.
Little gluing was done. In fact, I offered bags for them to take home shapes and some agreed. Others put the shapes in a bag for me to keep. Just the act of punching and cutting was enough of a learning experience.
In my first grade room, the experience is different. Most of the activities we do have some kind of "determined" end result. Part of the difference is the venue. At church we are learning but don't need to have much assessment to gauge what was learned. At school we are learning...but more "evidence" of the learning is usually required.
I've been trying to get more of that "exploration without product" (or at least a more predetermined result) into my first grade class. As a new teacher, I'm figuring out a lot of things - and just trying to make sure that we're getting in all the concepts we need to learn. But my definite goal for the rest of the year and next year is to get more free exploration in.
Exploring and doing are the best ways for young children to learn - playing with concepts and investigating things are invaluable tools.